Tentative return to school

The Government’s plan for schools to return is for some primary school classes to return from 1 June ‘at the earliest’. At time of writing (Thursday evening, 28 May) it doesn’t look as if any of Chiswick’s state primary schools will be back on Monday morning and across the borough of Hounslow only a third are planning on going back next week.

“It’s a very mixed picture, which is still changing daily” says Cllr Tom Bruce, Hounslow’s Cabinet Member for Education, Children and Youth Services. He stresses that it’s down to the individual schools to decide what’s right for them and does not intend to add any pressure.

Department of Education guidelines are that primary schools should begin with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes. In Chiswick, the concensus seems to be that it’s a good idea to start with the older children first, then Year 1 and then Reception, week by week.

Image above: Children from St Mary’s RC Primary School.

Image below: Children from William Hogarth School

Logistical nightmare

Across Hounslow’s 55 primary schools, 18 plan to open in some capacity next week, 20 the following week and three the week after, with 14 still unconfirmed. Strand on the Green Infants, Belmont and Grove Park have let Tom know they’re planning to start on 8 June, while Cavendish School and William Hogarth School are looking to start at some point next week. He had no information as yet about St Mary’s RC Primary School or Strand on the Green Juniors as yet.

Schools have a lot to consider, and the picture is fluid, so parents should get their information from their own head teacher, as this is just a snap shot and tomorrow it could all be wrong, as things are changing day by day.

“I don’t envy the schools this task” says Tom, “especially the heads. Staff and parents are worried and children are worried. You tell children to abide by social distancing and they do it, but three minutes later they forget, as they are chatting to their friends. Is it realistic to expect them to remember?”

DfE guidance suggests that the classrooms are stripped down, all soft furnishings removed and a lot of the stuff which generally inhabits primary schools, making the classes look homely and welcoming, so that they are easier to clean. Children should be taught in a ‘bubble’ of 15, a cohort who stick together, in the classroom and the playground, not mixing with other groups.

A class is generally 30 kids and initially with only one, two or three year groups to deal with, there should be enough space and teachers to go round, but as more age groups return schools will either need to teach the groups for half the time – morning or afternoon only – or they will need to find more space and more teachers to keep the groups separate.

Image above: Children at Belmont School

It’s a logistical nightmare. The advice is only to have fifteen desks and chairs in each classroom so they can be well spaced, to introduce one way systems of walking about the school and staggered break times.

“It is very, very challenging” says Tom, “so schools will have to take it slowly and do it at their own pace”.

Teachers who are shielding do not have to return and he thinks heads will be sympathetic to staff who have family members who need to remain shielded, though this strays into the realm of employment law which is yet to be tested.

“There will be lots of difficult conversations” he says.

At least no one will have to bother with SATs this year. I asked Tom how many parents he thought would send their children in to school at the start. His guess was about 50%. Both Ealing and Hounslow have made it clear that they won’t be trying to make parents send their children to school and there will be no penalties if they don’t.

The Government’s expectation is that all primary school year groups will be back before the end of the summer term.

Read More on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: When are the schools going back?

See also: Government decision not to fund free school meals a ‘disgrace’